Government is going public "Requiem for City Hall" January 18 Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and the City Council have been squabbling in the new $77 million City Hall for more than...

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Government is going public

“Requiem for City Hall” January 18

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and the City Council have been squabbling in the new $77 million City Hall for more than a year now. But for the rest of us, the downtown project won’t really be complete until early next year with the expected opening of the adjacent public plaza.

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The tree-lined space should be a far sight prettier than the dismal entry to the old Municipal Building, which was torn down last year. Designed with cozy spots for sitting alongside an artificial stream and 110-step “grand stairway,” the plaza should become a lunchtime gathering spot for office workers — and a rallying point for Seattle’s ubiquitous protesters any time they feel outraged.

— Jim Brunner

The bookish crowds are coming

“Brutal Beauty” April 25

If book circulation and public use are the best measures of the success of Seattle’s new downtown library, then the eye-catching building is getting rave reviews from John Q. Public. Circulation has seen an average increase of about 60 percent, and daily patronage is triple the old library, even after the initial crowds of the merely curious dissipated.

With rave architectural reviews, four organized tours a day and visitors from around the world, “We think we’ve done something pretty special,” City Librarian Deborah Jacobs said. Staff is also generally pleased with how the building “works,” she reported, and the library has given downtown a “living room” and hangout.

The library has also had some problems. The building has proven puzzling for some to negotiate — the librarian noted that patrons seem to need three trips to feel comfortable navigating it. Signs are going to be improved. In retrospect, Jacobs wishes there were public restrooms on more floors, and some painted floors are going to be replaced with tile to make cleaning easier. The vivid colors charm some and jar others.

Architects Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Ramos have returned frequently to see how well revolutionary theory is working in practice. Said one patron to another as they ascended the escalators: “How will all this stand the test of time? We’ll see.”

— William Dietrich

At the lab, more HITs in the works

“The Ultimate Reality Show” April 11

The University of Washington’s Human Interface Technology Lab continues to grind away on its menu of gadgetry designed to help ease pain, learn complicated subjects and improve medical procedures.

Led by founder Tom Furness and tied to the school’s engineering college, the 14-year-old lab focuses on developing and registering innovations and spinning off companies. The projects are always ambitious and mirror the humanist bent of Furness, a pioneer of virtual reality.

One project moving ahead involves a 3-D video-display system that scientists hope will not only make images more real but also less straining on the eyes. Known as “True 3-D,” the device beams images directly to the retina, but unlike usual 3-D displays, True 3-D bounces the beam off an adjusting mirror to aid perspective.

HIT Lab scientists Brian Schowengerdt and Eric Seibel believe the system will especially help doctors perform surgery.

Meanwhile, the HIT Lab’s sister site in New Zealand is dedicating its annual meeting in February to bridging the “gap between industry, creativity and academia.”

— Richard Seven

The work of the preserve goes on

“Preserving Whidbey” June 13

Since the intent of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve is to keep central Whidbey Island as it is and was, it isn’t surprising that little has “happened” since publication of our 25-year report card. Nonetheless, reserve managers and supporters are hard at work.

By spring of 2005, the National Park Service hopes to have a plan for the reserve’s next 20 years ready for public review. Another goal for next year is the sale or lease of two dairy farms from temporary federal ownership to private hands. A longer-term goal is to distinctively brand island food products with a name like “Whidbey” or “Ebey” in hopes they can fetch a higher market price and help reserve farmers to survive.

On a sad note, youthful Sally Hayton-Keeva, who was pictured in the 1902 one-room schoolhouse she restored with her husband, unexpectedly died of cancer just a couple months after the story appeared.

— William Dietrich